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A Dubious Education

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Prompto sat in the back of the main auditorium of his high school, resting his feet on the chair in front of him. A few rows behind, Mrs. Dione pulled up a chair and sat pointedly at the end of the aisle, sharp grey eyes focused on the back of Prompto’s head. He tried to ignore her. She’d caught him and Noct trying to sneak out of school through the service entrance at lunch, ruining their one chance to escape before the school was sectioned off into groups for the yearly sex-ed rally. Since Ignis and Gladio had to attend rallies like this a few years back, Prompto and Noct had a good idea of what they should expect.

None of it sounded good.

Prompto hunched over as the last straggling students were ushered into the auditorium, and slipped his phone out of the pocket of his hoodie. There was a text from Noct full of skull and knife emojis, and a picture from Gladio of the cat that lived next to the Amicitia house, shoving her head through the chain-link fence.

A siren blared, and Prompto jumped as the lights over the audience dimmed. A white spotlight appeared on the stage, and a line of twenty-somethings in carefully ripped jeans and shirts with “ABC’s Of Loving Me!” on the back skipped out from behind the dusty curtain. A girl with—yes, those were definitely butterfly clips in her hair—ran forward and made a wide, sweeping gesture. It looked like she was in pain.

“What’s up, my home-boys and girls!” she shouted, and Prompto felt the beginnings of horror stir in his stomach. “Are my Omegas in the house?”

There was an awkward silence. Someone coughed, and one of the twenty-somethings set down a boombox and pressed a button. Loud, synthesized music, full of horns and poorly-played drums, made the speakers on either side of the stage hiss with static. One of the entertainers pulled out a key-tar.

“Oh gods,” Prompto whispered, as the group started clapping their hands, encouraging the Omega teenagers in the audience to clap along. He glanced back at Mrs. Dione, who shot him a dark look, and back to the stage.

“Hey! Hey-hey!” the lead singer shouted. “It’s A! Okay! To B! O-meeeeeee-gaaaaaaaaa!”

Prompto sank down into his seat, clutched his phone like a lifeline, and prayed to any gods who would listen that the Insomnia ABC Crew’s Sex Ed Extravaganza would be over soon.

 

Noct, sitting in the front row of the gym bleachers with the school dean staring him down like he’d just kicked a puppy in a pet store, wished he could warp out of sight without being put on suspension. Of course they’d separate him from Prompto, never mind that half the student body tried to skip out of the rally every year, anyways. Never mind that there were still students protesting the fact that the program split up students who’d already presented. Never mind that Chloe Omnis had chained herself to the auditorium doors last time. No, the prince of Lucis tried to sneak out, so he had to be watched.

From the front row. Like a criminal.

“Alright, kids,” said a guy in his mid-thirties, wearing a shirt with the words “ABC’s Of Loving Me!” on the back. His voice sounded like he’d been chewing gravel, and there were deep bags under his eyes. “You’re here ‘cause y’all already presented as Betas, right? Raise your hand if you don’t know what you are yet. Come on.”

One or two kids raised their hands.

“Alright, get on out to Auditorium A,” he said, and the kids slunk out, closing the gym doors behind them with a bang. “Right. So you’re Betas. Congrats, I guess.”

There was some murmuring in the audience, and the man sighed. Somehow, he managed to use his entire body to do it, like even his bones were tired. “Oh, yeah. So you guys get like, the Beta trophy.”

He shoved a basket into the arms of the girl sitting at the end of Noct’s row, and she yelped. “Take one and pass it on,” he said, and she lifted out a plastic model of a beta fish. Noct tried not to groan. One by one, the kids in the gym picked a fish out of the basket, all in utter, mind-numbing silence. When it was done, the man standing before them clapped his hands.

“Yeah, so, as you probably know, we’re like, the mediators in a pack,” he said, grinding out the last word with a bitter sarcasm that Noct didn’t fail to pick up. “So we’re gonna watch a video about how to calm down the dramatic little shits—sorry, sorry, your future mates or whatever. Take it away, Larry.”

Everyone glanced up as an image flickered on the white sheet that had been draped over the volleyball net. There was a loud clicking noise, and the man in front sat down, pulling out a tablet, as a black-and-white video started up. The people on the screen looked like they’d stepped out one of Noct’s grandparents’ photo albums, and they talked in odd, tinny voices.

“Golly gee-whiz, Patroclus,” said a young man in the film. “I heard you and your mate were in need of a calming influence!”

“Are we ever!” Patroclus said. Noct sighed and squeezed his plastic fish in his fingers. He wished he’d lied and said he hadn’t presented yet. Then he’d be able to be with Prompto at least.

Lucky asshole, he thought, and tugged his hoodie up over his eyes.

 

“Woah, woah, woah!” shouted Sandy, the perky woman with bleached blond hair and a neon yellow scrunchie. “Looks like we have a rockin’ Omega here!”

Prompto’s shoes squeaked on the auditorium stage as Brutus, the “Sensitive One,” and Josephine, the “Best Rapper in South Insomnia’s Third District Warehouses,” pushed him forward.

“I’m really not,” he said, desperately. “I haven’t… I’m still not…”

This wasn’t just a nightmare. This had gone beyond Prompto’s nightmares and into a new and terrifying place he never knew existed before, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to punch the MC or throw up on her shoes. He tried not to look at the audience. At his classmates. Classmates he would have to see in the halls after this. Oh, gods.

“Haven’t presented yet?” Sandy chirped. “That’s no big! You’re Grade A Omega material, let me tell you. I mean, just look at you!”

Prompto struggled between confusion and anger. “Sorry, what?”

“Take note, kids!” Sandy gestured to Prompto’s head. “Omegas tend to be small for their age—“

“What?” Prompto squawked. “No they—my dad’s six foot three—“

“Tend to be shyyyyy,” Sandy said, winking. Prompto clenched his fists in his hoodie pockets. “And they have a natural tendency to want to nurture and take care of their friends. Don’t you, honey?”

“Not… not really,” Prompto said. “I like my friends, but I don’t—“

“So tell me… what was your name? Promso? Tell me, Promsol,” Sandy said, slinging her arm around Prompto’s shoulders. “What do you look for in a mate?”

“I’m not looking!”

There was an outbreak of horrified laughter. “Sure you aren’t,” Sandy said. “But think of it like this, Promsion. Imagine you find your Alpha. Your one true love. The mate of your life.”

“Uh, but what if I’m in love with someone who isn’t an Alph—“ Prompto began.

“And this,” Sandy said, taking a new, white sneaker from one of her colleagues, “is your virginity.”

The laughter started up again. Prompto stared at the shoe.

“My virginity’s a shoe?”

“But if you spend your heats with someone else before you find your mate,” Sandy said, pulling out a beat-up, dirty sneaker, “this is you.”

Prompto was silent as he waited for his body to spontaneously combust.

“Do you want to give your mate a nice, clean, sparkly shoe?” Sandy asked. “Or an ugly, used, ratty old thing?”

“I…” Prompto swallowed. “I dunno. New shoes give you blisters, right? I’d go for the comfortable one.”

Sandy’s face fell as the audience burst into riotous laughter. “Uh, well, then,” she said. “Let’s hear it for our Omega in training, Proshnus!”

Prompto fled for his seat. He should have stayed home. He shouldn’t have agreed to sneak out and get sushi with Noct this afternoon. He should have fallen off the steps of the school bus and laid in bed with a concussion all day. Anything, anything but this.

On the stage, the crew was starting into another rap, this time about how knots were only uncomfortable if you used contraception or weren’t “Way in love, way-way in love! Break it down, Sandy! What’s the rule of love?”

“L!” Sandy shouted. “Loose Omegas ain’t my style!”

“O!” shouted Brutus, “Open up to abstinence for a while!”

By the time they made it to V, Prompto had reached his seat. Mrs. Dione was standing in the back, talking to one of the science teachers. Just beyond her was the bright crack of the door, leading to the hall by the gymnasium. To freedom.

Prompto slouched past his seat, ducked his head down, and ran for it.

 

“Well, shucks, Achilles,” said Fredicus, the well-meaning, fresh-faced Beta on what had to be the worst film ever made. “Why do Omegas build nests if we’re technically wolves?”

“Not all of us are full wolves, Fredicus,” Achilles said, with a wink. “Only the royal bloodlines of—“ A mechanic voiceover roared through the gym: Tenebrae. Lucis. “can transform. The rest of us have, you know, different ways of showing our lineage.”

“Gosh, Achilles, you sure are smart,” said Fredicus. Achilles clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“And you’re mighty swell, Fredicus.”

“Um.” That voice came from the audience. Noct twisted round to see a girl raising her hand tentatively in the back. “Um. What about nesting?” she asked. “I know Betas don’t do it, but wolves in the wild don’t really—“

“It’s a magic thing,” said the member of the ABC crew, not looking up from his tablet. “Or maybe it’s just them being fucking weird, I don’t know.”

“Well, why don’t female Betas nest if they have the ability to give birth?” the girl asked. “And are Omegas really unable to get their partners pregnant? Because I heard that someone in the next school over had sex with a guy and now she’s—“

“No sex before you form a pack, kids,” the man said. “No more interruptions. Watch the movie.”

Noct turned back around. Fredicus was explaining, with the helpful use of old-time animation, how the “brain waves” of a Beta were supposed to make an Alpha and Omega feel “gosh darn better, don’t you know!” He wondered if he could have a talk with his dad about this. He wondered if his dad had seen this.

After what felt like an eon, the door to the gym creaked open, and Noct nearly fell off the bleachers at the sight of Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio slipping into the room. Ignis strode forward, looking smart and official in his pressed suit and shiny loafers, and called over the dean. They spoke in hushed voices, glancing back at Noct every few seconds, and the dean finally nodded.

“Caelum,” he said, and Noct jumped to his feet. “You and your retainers are needed at the Crownsguard offices at the Citadel for some sort of training exercise.”

“Training?” Noct asked. Ignis raised his eyebrows, and Prompto mouthed something at him frantically. Gladio just grinned. “Oh, right. Yeah. That’s the thing me and Prom were trying to go to earlier. Training.”

“Next time,” the dean said, grimly, “you tell the school ahead of time, Caelum.”

“Yeah,” Noct said, nearly tripping over himself in his rush to escape. “Sounds swell.”

“Swell?” Ignis asked, as Noct practically flung himself into his friends’ arms. Noct just shook his head and kept going. They walked out of the school at a brisk pace, Gladio rubbing Prompto’s back and whispering things like, “Shows what they fucking know, Prom,” and “I’ll give her a dirty shoe right up her—“

It seemed like Prompto’s side of the rally had gone about as well as Noct’s. They piled into a Crownsguard car that Ignis had parked in the middle of the school pick-up lot, and Prompto and Noct fell into the backseat with twin sighs of bone-deep exhaustion.

“I didn’t think you’d actually come get us, Iggy,” Prompto said, as Ignis pulled the car out of the school lot and onto the road towards the Citadel. Ignis glanced at him through the rearview mirror and shrugged.

“Gladio and I told you before,” he said. “We went through much the same ordeal as the two of you.”

“Probably not exactly the same,” Noct mumbled. “You’re Alphas.”

“Right,” Gladio said. “And Iggy here, he had to get up on stage and pledge to keep his dick pure and sacred, and I had to hold the banana.”

“The…” Prompto and Noct exchanged wary glances. “The banana?”

“We don’t speak of that fruit in this car, Gladio,” Ignis said, in a steely tone. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and smiled, slow and wicked. “Of course, considering the misinformation you’ve likely been fed, I suppose it falls upon me to tell you both the true facts of life. Now. Where shall we start, Gladio?”

Noct lunged for the door. Prompto grabbed Noct around the middle, Ignis slammed on the brakes before the prince of Lucis could throw himself into traffic, and Gladio laid his forehead on the window of the car and laughed until he cried.